West Nipissing is just over 1900 square kilometres, a very large area to cover for our fire service. Most firefighters are volunteers living outside of Sturgeon Falls where small villages, swaths of forest, rural properties and dwellings intermingle. The firefighters are like a second family, according to Richard Miranda, the former Fire Chief who helped his team navigate the pandemic before handing the reins to Frank Loeffen in July 2022. “Training was difficult during the pandemic, where we had to wear medical masks, work with smaller groups, and still some of the training was simply cancelled,” Miranda says. “It’s a new normal, but we are getting back on track.”
There are 9 fire stations: Sturgeon Falls, Crystal Falls, Tomiko, Field, River Valley, Verner, Lavigne, North Monetville, and Cache Bay. “Ideally, we look for 15 firefighters per station, as there is varied availability for each volunteer. Right now, we have around 100 firefighters.” Miranda cites an “ongoing recruitment” to keep the fire services operational.
Apart from the important job of fighting fires, WNFS is strongly involved in the community, with each station holding events and fundraisers throughout the year. They host hockey tournaments, fireworks, Halloween events, the Toy drive/Radio-Telethon, BBQs, bingos, Christmas parades, and the Pink T-shirt fundraiser where 100% of proceeds go to the hospital for the mammogram program. “These events have been good group bonding for our volunteers.” Miranda points to the countless hours put back into our community for the benefit of everyone.
Chief Loeffen also remarks that the pandemic restricted the number of firefighters able to assemble and train. “We had to find alternative methods for training, like manuals and online education, as there was no interaction, but the knowledge side of it was there.” He goes on to say, “it’s always been a challenge to recruit volunteers, not just for our region but worldwide, as many don’t have the time or energy to volunteer.” Yet to this, Chief Loeffen affirms that the WNFS is an organization with tight relationships and team spirit, “Members get the training and are provided with the opportunity for a team atmosphere, kind of like a hockey team, dance group or sports club.”